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Madison County: Off the tax rolls

The Department of Interior announced May 20 its intent to acquire a little more than 13,000 acres of Oneida Indian Nation-owned property. The long-awaited decision is in response to the Nation's 2005 application for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take more than 17,000 acres into trust.

"In rendering this determination, the Department understands that the Nation has no plans to convert any of the Subject Lands to gaming or gaming-related uses, except where the lands are already being used for those purposes (i.e., the Turning Stone Resort & Casino)," wrote Department of Interior Associate Deputy Secretary James E. Cason in the 73-page Record of Decision.

The properties are located in Madison and Oneida counties.

Madison County Board of Supervisors Chairman John M. Becker (R,C,I -- Sullivan) said he was not surprised by the decision.

"It's nothing earth shattering," Becker said. "It's what we figured what the BIA told us in February, it pretty much mirrored that."

The Nation expressed satisfaction with the decision in a prepared statement.

"The Oneida people are sincerely grateful to everyone whose hard work has led to this initial step toward further securing our Oneida homelands," said Oneida Nation Representative and CEO Ray Halbritter.

City of Oneida Mayor Peter Hedglon said the city's analysis of tax impact shows a loss of about $104,000 per year, using 2008 tax dollars.

"But the Record of Decision projects a much smaller amount, about $58,000 or $59,000," Hedglon said. "I haven't reconciled those numbers yet to figure out where the difference is. We're looking at an increase of about 2 percent in taxes, and it could be more."

"I was disappointed to learn that the federal Department of Interior (DOI) failed New York State and the residents of my district today," said Assemblyman David Townsend, who represents western Oneida County in the state's 115th Assembly District. "Rather than listen to the families, neighbors, and taxpayers, who must ultimately live with the profound upheaval this short-sighted land grab would cause to the economic and environmental quality of their communities, Washington has chosen to ignore hours of public-hearing testimony, countless letters to the editor, and newspapers' editorials, conservative and liberal alike, and instead violate the laws of New York State and its people's rights, especially those of seniors and schoolchildren."

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